Intercepts

Belle of the ball, buzz creation, silent treatment and a rut.

The Interceptor reported from New Orleans, site of the NMCI Industry Symposium last week.

The belle of the ball

As Navy Rear Adm. Charles Munns' tenure as director of the Navy Marine Corps Intranet winds down, the praise and backslapping began in earnest last week at the NMCI Industry Symposium in the Big Easy. Speaker after speaker — servicemen and women, senators, department secretaries and industry executives — had kind words for the admiral, who has been nominated to receive his third star and a transfer to the Atlantic submarine fleet.

During the week, Munns was referred to as "the Navy's designated hitter," "unflappable" and "focused."

"The truth is someone had to take the job on, and the Navy reached out and grabbed Munns," said Lt. Gen. Edward Hanlon Jr., commander of Marine Corps Combat Development Command. "I'm pretty sure he didn't volunteer for it."

The Senate still must approve Munns' promotion, but most political observers expect him to sail right through the confirmation process.

Perhaps to hedge the bets, the NMCI team invited Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) to be one of the featured speakers at the symposium.

"I want to thank Chuck Munns for inviting me here, but I don't know exactly what he's doing," Burns said. "He must be looking for one more vote in the Senate."

Creating a buzz

Hanlon may have had good things to say about Munns, but he isn't an NMCI fan. And he certainly knows how to cause a stir. Speaking at the symposium, he listed the ways in which the NMCI network and lead contractor EDS had failed him.

He said his experience with NMCI has been less than exemplary, and that the network used to directly support combatant commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan must be held to a higher standard.

"I use my NMCI seat every day to talk to combat leaders in Iraq, and there have been far too many occasions where my seat has failed," he said.

Afterward, Hanlon's speech was the talk of the conference. Although he tried to soften the blow by saying he was still fully committed to NMCI, what resonated with the 1,000 attendees was his candor.

Hanlon received the only standing ovation of the conference, which featured Navy Secretary Gordon England and speakers from the House and the Senate.

Hanlon later refused to elaborate on any of his points, saying he had covered everything in his speech.

Maybe the old adage is accurate: The truth will set you free.

The silent treatment

It's no surprise that the big topic of conversation at the NMCI industry event was NMCI, the $8.8 billion enterprisewide network, and its ups, downs, failures and successes.

Everyone was talking, that is, except officials from lead contractor EDS. Company representatives kept to their format and spoke at their scheduled appearances, but they entered their "quiet period" just before the conference began.

EDS is scheduled to release its quarterly earnings statement in July, and a company spokesman said officials couldn't comment on any financial issues, whether related to the NMCI contract or not.

EDS representatives surely were inconvenienced by being muzzled by an army of corporate lawyers during the one conference where they probably wanted to shout their successes from the rooftops. But perhaps it was a mixed blessing because the company did not have to answer its critics either.

Caught in a rut

Anyone who has seen Navy chief information officer Dave Wennergren knows two things about him: He talks fast, and he peppers his speech with stories that illustrate the point he is making.

At the NMCI symposium, Wennergren related a tale about how a system can get stuck in its own way of doing business and never escape.

Railroad tracks, he said, are spaced 4 feet, 8 and a half inches apart because British tram tracks are spaced that far apart. And that is because horse-drawn carts had their wheels spaced that far apart. Carts' wheels were that far apart because ruts in the road were spaced that distance. And guess what? Roman chariot wheels were spaced the same distance apart. The reason? That was the width of two horses bridled side by side.

"I heard that story, and I thought of two things," Wennergren said. "First, sometimes we get too comfortable with the way we do business. Second, it's hard to get anything done when two horses' [rear ends] get together."

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